A Movie Entry – Riff-ability, Part 1

There are discussions amongst film critics and fans on the criteria to judge a movie as good, or bad, or “so bad it’s good.” I don’t agree with the “so bad it’s good” camp because I believe bad is bad, but I do believe a movie can be so bad it’s fun to mock. Mocking badly made media is its own form of entertainment, and the premise of MST3K. So with that in mind, the revival coming soon, I present my general categories of bad movies and their suitability for riffing. Please note some bad movies crossover categories.

1) Sincere, But Incompetent (a.k.a. “The Ed Wood”) – These are the sorts of movies where it is clear the film-makers had a vision they desperately wanted to share with the world but lacked the talent and/or money to bring that vision to the screen. There is a healthy helping of schadenfreude in watching these movies because it is so clear someone really thought they were making something worthwhile. Alas, the film-makers ambition outstripped their actual ability.

Riff-ability Rating (RR) – Almost perfect; 9 out of 10 birdemics. Some people may actual feel a bit of guilt for mocking someone else’s (badly realized) cinematic dream. For myself, while Manos: The Hands of Fate is objectively a terrible movie with acting that would embarrass fifth-graders in a class play, I could kind of see what sort of horror tone the film-makers were going for. So even though I totally agree with MST3K’s episode, I also do feel the teeniest bit guilty that the film-makers were so hilarious inept.

2) Totally Cheap, But Profitable (a.k.a. “The Roger Corman”) – These kinds of movies have been made notorious by the incredibly prolific director Roger Corman (noted for filming entire movies in less than a week). These movies appear to be made as tax write-offs or some other kind of business model in which the return on the actual movie is less important to the bottom line than the initial investment. Uwe Boll has also adopted this model for cheaply shot video game adaptations.

RR – Almost perfect, 9 out of 10 birdemics. No one feels guilty for mocking such movies, but there was never any hope for these anyway.

3) Bialystock Business Model – Wrong script, wrong cast, or wrong director, but does not go right. Such movies are similar to the Corman model, but were not intentionally made cheaply for maximum profit. A recent example of such a movie is the lamentable Fant4stic.

RR – Only 4 of out 10 birdemics. The problem is that many times not enough elements go wrong to produce the magnificence that is “Springtime for Hitler.” Instead, the result is often too boring or too shallow to find anything worth mocking.

4) Soulless Pandering (a.k.a. “The Plundering of Your Childhood”) – Boy howdy are there a lot of movies being made in this category lately, and I’m afraid there are only to be more. Any movie obviously made to capitalize on the goodwill generated by some other medium falls into this category. This includes the “Transformers” franchise, the “G.I. Joe” movies, the truly, truly pathetic Jem and the Holograms, and so on and so forth. Please note that Soulful Pandering can actually produce good movies (like The LEGO Movie).

RR: 3 out of 10 birdemics. Such movie tend to be overly-long and just hard to sit through. Transformers is a long, long movie, and all the shiny explosions Michael Bay could cram into it did not distract me from being keenly aware of the wasted minutes of my life ticking away… Also, the viewer’s emotional investment in the source often lowers riff-ability. There is a point where “soulless” just becomes “soul-sucking.”

5) Aberrant Adaptation – Not the same as, but can overlap with, the Soulless Pandering category. Adaptations are necessarily pandering or soulless. Many are sincere (at least as much as any disposable media made for public consumption and profit can be) and are genuinely enjoyable to watch. There are actually subcategories:

a) Garbage In, Garbage Out (a.k.a. “The Sparkle Leech”) – In this case, the source material is so terrible that no adaptation can possibly fix it. Prime examples include the “Twilight Saga” and its porn parody “Fifty Shades.”
RR: 7 out of 10 birdemics. The biggest obstacle to riffing in these movies is boredom. That said, I did sit through the RiffTrax version of 3 out of 5 “Twilight” movies. “Yakety Sax” really does improve any running scene.

b) Off the Rails (a.k.a. “Where’s Bilbo?”) – In this case, the source material has been altered so greatly the end result is nothing like the original and not in a good way (How to Train Your Dragon barely resembles the book besides the title but is a decent flick). Obviously, the “Hobbit” trilogy is an outsized offender in this category.
RR: Depends on your emotional investment in the source material. If the travesty puts a hole in your soul, then only 3 sad birdemics. But if you can see the wretchedness as part and parcel of the subject of mockery, then 7 very snarky birdemics.

c) Totally Botched (a.k.a. “The Last Airbender”) – In this case, the source material was decent but the execution of the adaptation is thoroughly, nay, unbelievably, incompetent, to say the least.
RR: Same as above.

6) Preposterous Premise (a.k.a. “SyFy Originals”) – I don’t particularly enjoy crushing a screenwriter’s dreams, but some premises are just too stupid, like killer fruits masquerading as vegetables, giant carnivorous rabbits (small carnivorous rabbits are a different story), and obviously most of the premises of SyFy Original Movies. This category does not include movies that are self-aware of the absurdity of their own premises.

RR: 8 out of 10 birdemics. The older movies of this type I think are more fun because they seem much more oblivious to the ridiculous premise while the modern ones, even the ones that aren’t deliberately self-aware, have too much of a wink and a nod about them. This category is for movies that just aren’t in on the joke.

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’ll continue along this theme later. After all, I still need to explain why my rating system is in birdemics.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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